Using a free retirement planning program is an excellent way to get a quick overall look at your financial readiness for retirement.
Types of Free Retirement Planning Programs
Retirement planning software and calculators take information you provide and apply economic assumptions to predict how much you might have in your investment portfolio at retirement. They can also estimate how long that portfolio will last.
Some of the programs deliver the information only in chart form, which is useful, but can be more difficult to use than colorful graphics if you are trying to compare a series of numbers over a period of time. Other programs provide the information in both chart and graphic formats. Some programs specialize in the lightning-quick ability to calculate different results whenever you make a slight change to your assumptions.
The programs prompt you to enter basic information such as the:
- Amount you have saved.
- Amount you spend each month.
- Number of years until you plan to retire.
The programs then apply a series of assumptions such as the projected:
- Interest rate you will earn on your savings.
- Rate of return on your investments.
- Amount you will spend each month after you retire.
- Length of time you will live.
- Rate of nationwide inflation.
- Tax rate.
The numbers used as assumptions are key in determining the resulting information. The program will probably let you override the assumptions and replace them with your own. This is not recommended unless you are changing the assumptions to be more conservative, such as lowering the forecasted rate of return on your investments.
Even a small variation in one of the assumptions can result in a huge change in your forecasted retirement results. For example, forecasting a six percent annual return on your investments, but only making a five percent return, can result in a much smaller retirement portfolio.
Examples of Free Programs
Free software programs and retirement calculators are available online from:
- Investment information providers such as Kiplinger.
- Brokerage houses such as Fidelity.
- Non-profit organizations such as AARP.
Fidelity Retirement Income Planners
Fidelity offers two software programs, which are provided by Strategic Advisers, Inc., a registered investment adviser and a Fidelity Investments company:
- myPlan Retirement Quick Check - This program helps you decide how much you will need to have saved when you start your retirement. The program also calculates the effect of delaying your retirement.
- Retirement Income Planner - This is designed for individuals who are getting ready to retire or who have already retired. You enter information about upcoming changes in your expenses, such as when you'll pay off your house, when you plan to pay for your fantasy vacation to Australia, and when you plan to stop working. The program will calculate how these changes will affect your total available cash. It will also analyze the effects of making changes to your investments, spending less, working part-time and delaying retirement.
The advantages of these Fidelity programs include:
- Free to Fidelity clients
- Have easy-to-use "what if" formats that let you try different retirement scenarios such as retiring later, investing more or taking more risk
- Saved information so you can try alternative scenarios without reentering your data
- Tax impact
- Accepts non-Fidelity investments in your analysis
- Only take about 10-to-15 minutes to complete
Morningstar Asset Allocator
This program is free to premium members of Morningstar. It only asks for a few pieces of information because the analysis is calculated using your Morningstar portfolio as your source for available cash. It does not factor in salary income, Social Security benefits or taxes. It will estimate your forecasted first-year retirement income; but, it does not forecast the value of your portfolio when you retire. It also provides ideas on ways to enhance your portfolio.
This program does not have as many graphics as the Fidelity planning programs. But, it does a good job at analyzing the effect of Social Security benefits and taxes on your overall retirement portfolio.
The program will estimate:
- The value of your portfolio at retirement.
- Your forecasted income during the first year after you retire.
Calculators are another form of a free retirement planning program designed to forecast specific results. A calculator will project the value of a portfolio at a specific time in the future, or the total income that an individual would have available at retirement. You just enter your information and the calculator "does the math."Some calculators automatically enter the necessary assumptions, such as the projected inflation rate, or the number of years you will be retired based on nationwide actuarial results on longevity.
Other calculators will ask you enter your assumptions. Be sure to do your homework before you enter your assumptions. The more conservative your assumptions, the more conservative the results will be from the calculator.
Making the Best Use the Information
Free retirement planning programs, both software programs and calculators, are easy ways to get quick evaluations of how well your current savings and investment programs will meet your needs for cash during your retirement.
Specifically, they are good as:
- An estimate of how well you are doing in saving for your retirement.
- A wake up call that you are not saving enough for your retirement.
After you have your quick evaluation, continue your retirement planning with conversations with investment and tax professionals about your specific financial situation. Estate and financial planning are too important to not take advantage of the expertise of specialists who can look you in the eye, hear you talk about your goals, ask you specific questions and then give you practical ideas on how to be better-set for retirement.